UFC Anti-Doping Policy
Jeff Novitzky
Jeff Novitzky, Vice President, Athlete Health and Performance, UFC

Stuart S. Janney III:

Good luck with the rest of the Saratoga meet, Chris, and thank you very much for that update.

Our next speaker is Jeff Novitzky. Through the years on behalf of federal agencies such as the FDA and the IRS, he has conducted investigations into some of the highest profile anti-doping cases in professional sports history. He's made the trip from Las Vegas to be with us, and today he's going to share some insights on the UFC's ground breaking anti-doping program.

Jeff, welcome to the Round Table Conference.

Jeff Novitzky:

Thank you, Stuart, for that nice introduction, and thank you, Stuart and Jim, for inviting me here today to speak. I am honored and probably the best word is excited to be here today for a couple of reasons.

Foremost, I am a big fan of the sport. I grew up in the 1970s and vividly recall watching those stirring Triple Crown races involving Seattle Slew, the Affirmed-Alydar battles, and I've been hooked as a fan ever since.

Being based now, as Stuart just mentioned, currently in Las Vegas, last June I was in a casino sports book and witnessed American Pharoah take home the Triple Crown, and I'd been in the same environment for other big sporting events, Super Bowls, Final Fours, NBA finals, World Series and none of those rivaled the atmosphere that was in that sports book that day.

Very, very similar to what you see in the fight game when you witness a big fight.

That leads me to the second reason I'm excited to be up here today, and that's the parallels between your sport and what I have witnessed and worked on in my tenure at the UFC for the last year and a half, especially as it relates to the issues of anti-doping and the UFC's anti-doping program.

I'm the vice president of athlete health and performance with the UFC, and that role has me overseeing various aspects and departments within the UFC, all of them specifically tied to ensuring the health and safety of our athletes both long and short term, and that includes my overseeing what we're calling and what I know to be the strongest, most robust, comprehensive anti-doping program in professional sports in the world.

Before I get into that, let me take a step back a little bit here, and I'm sure there may be many in this room who aren't familiar with the UFC and what we do. So let me tell you a little bit about that.

We are the world's largest mixed martial arts fight promotion. Some of our most famous athletes include Conor McGregor, Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey. Mixed martial arts is a full contact sport that allows both striking and grappling, both standing and on the ground, using techniques from other combat sports and, as the title indicates, martial arts.

Our athletes compete in what is known as the octagon. We have over 500 athletes spread throughout 37 countries in the world. We hold a little over 40 events each year at venues all over the world, and just last month, you may have heard in the news, the UFC was sold to the WME IMG group for a reported $4 billion, the largest single transaction in professional sports history.

Similar to the horse racing industry, we are regulated by commissions from the various locations where we hold our events. And that regulation similar to horse racing includes different rules and specifically different testing protocols in various degrees of seriousness and effectiveness as it comes to anti-doping.

In January of 2015 last year, the owners of the UFC, seeing the ineffectiveness of these varying rules and protocols, determined they needed their own set of anti-doping rules, including year round program with year round testing to supplement the anti-doping programs that were going on from the various state commissions in order to establish uniformity and consistency very similar to the proposed legislation in H.R.3084 by Congressmans Barr and Tonko.

And the parallel I think we share most in common as it relates to our sport is the level of importance as it comes to anti-doping.

And while in my opinion I believe anti-doping is an important societal, ethical standard as it relates to our sports, it goes to a whole new level. In our sports it's not about how far a ball is hit over the fence. It's not about setting a record, racing a bike up the side of a mountain. It's not about how fast you swim in the pool or how fast you run on the track.

It is literally about the virtual health, safety, and livelihood of UFC athletes as they battle in the octagon. And, similarly, it's about the health, safety, and livelihood of the beautiful, majestic animals in your sports and those amazing athletes that ride them around the track.

So that's what I'd like to share with you today, what this last year and a half has been like for us at UFC, what we went through and the decisions we made as it relates to the construction of our world anti-doping program, and having been instituted and launched in July 1st of last year, what we've gone through and experienced in carrying out that program as it relates to the administration.

So before I do that, let me take one further step back and tell you a little bit about hopefully what qualifies me to be in a position to speak as an authority on anti-doping. My previous career, previous to coming over to the UFC last April, I was a federal agent here in the United States for approximately 22 years.

The first 15 or so I was with the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, and the last seven plus I was a special agent with the Food and Drug Administration.

Beginning back in 2001, I came across an investigation known as BALCO Laboratories. It was located in the San Francisco Bay Area. BALCO Laboratories involved some of the highest profile athletes not only in the United States but across the country: Barry Bonds; Marion Jones, the face of the 2000 Sydney Olympics; Tim Montgomery, the world's fastest man at the time; various NFL players.

And BALCO in early 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft, in a press conference in Washington, D.C., announced the indictment of several individuals who were the brains behind BALCO and distributing the performance enhancing drugs to these high profile athletes.

Shortly thereafter, maybe a couple months, President George W. Bush, in a State of the Union speech, got up before the nation  I happened to be watching and was shocked and flabbergasted, as most were when he said these words:

Children need to make examples and make the right choices. Unfortunately some in professional sports are not setting a great example. The use of performance enhancing drugs like steroids in sports and baseball and football is dangerous and sends the wrong message.

He went on to say: Take the lead, send the right signal, get tough and get rid of steroids now.

You can imagine, or maybe you can't, what happened to my phone the next day and really the rest of my career. Because my name was out there as the one associated with the BALCO investigation, really one of the only ones at least in federal law enforcement, my phone never stopped ringing the rest of my career with tips and leads from other law enforcement officers and agents, not only in the United States, but worldwide.

That led me to other investigations.

I was the lead on the investigation of Kirk Radomski, the New York Mets clubhouse attendant who distributed steroids to dozens and dozens of professional baseball players.

I was involved with the Roger Clemens investigation, working in his trial.

I worked closely with Senator George Mitchell in his preparation of the Mitchell Report, which detailed the problems of steroids in Major League Baseball.

And lastly I was the case agent on an investigation involving professional cycling, including Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service team.

Throughout those investigations, I got to interview 150 to 200 high profile professional athletes who chose to use performance enhancing drugs. In addition to asking them about where they got the drugs, how they paid for them, how they were distributed, I always took the opportunity to ask them why they chose to use.

It wasn't anything special about me, but I was in a position and they were in a position to be compelled to tell me the truth. In fact, we prosecuted several athletes for not telling the truth.

So I think in the majority of those 150, 200 conversations I got the truth, and I always took the opportunity to ask, why did you choose to use performance enhancing drugs? What led you down that path?

And the answer I got and overwhelmingly the majority of the time, it came down to one word, and that word was trust. They said, “I didn't trust that my teammates weren't using. I didn't trust that my opponents weren't using, and maybe, most importantly, I didn't trust that my sports governing bodies cared enough because of the weakness of the program or in some cases total lack thereof.”

So when we put our anti-doping program together for UFC, that word [trust] was at the forefront of my mind when we put this program together.

The first few sentences of the UFC's anti-doping program I think set the tone for what we were looking to establish.

Our program is an essential part of our expanded efforts to protect the health and safety of its athletes and also protect their right to compete on a level playing field. Our goal for this program is to be the best anti-doping program in all of professional sports, and we have accomplished that. Not just in my opinion, as I've said, I've lived this world for the last 14 or 15 years, and seen the other anti-doping programs in professional sports.

I think we have several pillars of strength, what I call, that make this the best in professional sports, but I think the number one pillar is who we use to administer our program.

The UFC, while we wrote the rules to our program, modeled basically after the World Anti-Doping Agency code, we use the United States Anti-Doping Agency to administer our program, similar to the proposal in the congressmen's H.R.3084.
I cannot stress the importance of independent administration of an anti-doping policy. When I spoke earlier about trust and what the athletes told me about trust and the total lack thereof by some them that chose to dope, it was because those athletes not trusting sports governing bodies who were running their own anti-doping programs.

By having USADA, a completely independent entity, running our program and making all of the decisions in our program which of our athletes are tested, when they're tested, how often they're tested, the results management of our program none of our athletes can say anything related to our program is done with favoritism, is done with business interests in mind., It doesn't matter if you're the number one athlete or 500 plus on our roster, you're treated the same, fairly and with due process, and that's super important to an anti-doping program.

The next pillar of strength in our program, USADA, as you see in this slide here, has partners all throughout the world. We have over 500 athletes, as I said, spread amongst 37 countries. Any of our athletes can be tested any day of the year, and without that infrastructure and the partnerships in place that USADA has, we wouldn't be able to pull that off.

Our athletes are subject to 365 day a year testing. A test can be conducted on our athletes any day of the year, any time of the day. I cannot stress how important that is, and there is probably no better story to tell of the importance than what I learned in professional cycling. What I learned was that professional cyclers were probably the most sophisticated dopers that I've run into.

Tour de France, up until a couple years ago, the athletes riding in the Tour de France were not subject to testing from 10 p.m. at night until approximately 6 a.m., the reason being is these athletes were for three straight weeks literally climbing their bikes upside of a mountain for five to six hours a day, and the organizers determined they needed to let these guys sleep.

They determined that there was this blackout period of eight hours and were able through off season testing learn which drugs could be used in which amounts at literally 10:01 p.m., so that at 6:01 in the morning, those drug would be cleared from their systems, yet they'd still retain the benefits of those drugs in the next day's race.

You can see now with an eight-hour window in doping, which is so sophisticated now, could be exploited, what it would mean if an athlete knew they wouldn't be tested a certain day of the week, what an athlete knew would mean to an athlete if they knew they wouldn't be tested at home and were tested only at the event venue, very important the 365 day a year aspect, 24 hour a day for a test.

Whereabouts. This is because our athletes are subject to 365 day a year testing. They are required to let USADA, who administers our program, know where they can be located. They're required to tell them where they're residing at night and regularly scheduled activities during the day, and if USADA shows up in that area, they have one hour to report for testing.

It wasn't my idea, but it was a great idea who gave it to me early on in the program. They said: Jeff, you should probably subject yourself to whereabouts, so when you get up and speak in front of your athletes, you know what you're talking about. You can speak from experience.

So if USADA looks at my whereabouts application today, they see I'm giving a presentation here at The Jockey Club Round Table. If anybody sees any testers in the back, send them up; I'm ready to provide my sample.

Sanctions [are] another really important part of a solid anti-doping program. Another thing those athletes told me when I asked about why they chose to dope, they always came up with it was a constant risk reward calculation.

Make no doubt about it, these drugs work.

They work for humans, and they work for animals. They can take an already great athlete and great animal and make them even better. With the financial incentive in today's world, combining that with the effectiveness of the drug, there is always, always going to be a temptation and reward out there.

So the theory is you have to make that risk outweigh the reward, and that's what we have in our program.

A first time offense under the UFC program has the prospect of a potential four-year violation for one of our athletes. As I get out throughout the world and educate our athletes, I commonly ask, who thinks they can survive a four year suspension and come back and fight at the UFC and I've never gotten a hand raised in anybody that believes they can do that.

I do quite a lot of media throughout the world about our anti-doping program. I was just asked the other day by a reporter, what do you think would happen in the NFL if USADA was brought in to independently administer the same type of program you have at the UFC?

They asked me would there be any players left to compete, and would this just be leading lambs to the slaughter?

And I'm sure many in this room are probably wondering the same thing. What kind of effect would a program like this have on your industry? And the answer I gave to the reporter this week is the same answer I would give to you, because we had that exact same question in our mind last year when we instituted our program at UFC.

The success of any anti-doping program, especially as it relates to the business model of a company or organization, is not positive tests on the back end and sanctions, but a deterrence on the front end of that program.

That's why USADA and myself spent the first year or so of our program traveling throughout the U.S., traveling throughout the world, educating our roster of fighter, those coaches, those trainers and the support on the seriousness and comprehensiveness of our program.

We educated them that this program did not have loopholes and what that risk reward calculation under this program looked like, in that the risk far outweighed the reward that these drugs could bring. We built our testing numbers up gradually throughout that first year in a measured approach.

We went from approximately 150 tests our first quarter to 350, 450, and 500 in the quarters there after. This third quarter of 2016 is our first fully implemented quarter under our program that we're going to conduct or USADA will conduct approximately 700 tests on our athletes.

Of the approximate 1300 tests we've conducted in our first year of the program, we've had approximately 20 adverse events reported or less than 2%. Now, we've had some tough ones.

Just recently we had the main event on our landmark event in company history, literally, UFC 200, we had one of the fighters in the main event, we were notified by USADA three days before that fight of a positive test and had to pull that fighter from the event.

That's probably a realistic expectation for any program. Some bumps and bruises early, as we experienced, but as our program has shown I think a measured approach under the guidance of an organization like USADA, with a heavy, heavy early emphasis on education and a deterrent on the front end will not be apocalyptic to the sport.

In fact, it has great potential to add value to the sport, just like it likely added value to the UFC in our recent record sales of the UFC in sports franchise history.

While I realize there are many parallels between our two sports, there are obviously differences.

We're one organization and one ownership. Horse racing involves many, many organizations and ownerships. Under one ownership we were able to create our rules, which, as I said, we modeled after the World Anti-Doping Agency code.

Under H.R.3084, it is proposed that the Thoroughbred horse racing anti-doping authority under the leadership of USADA create the rules, and as I spoke about earlier, you could not have a better organization than USADA doing that for you.

I don't speak from theory on that statement. I speak from what I know, 100% what I know. An agency that's independently run our program now for over a year, and an agency I've interacted with, really, in my last 15 years, as I spoke about earlier in those investigations.

As you heard from USADA's CEO, Travis Tygart, and their chairman of the board, Edwin Moses, in recent Round Table years, they are credible, they are just, and from our experience take a fair, measured approach to a new program.

We talk internally all the time about the purpose of our program and for the UFC, obviously as I spoke about earlier, first and foremost is a place to protect the health and safety of our athletes, as it should be with you, if are your animals, for your athletes and for the fans of your sport.

But, secondarily, just like we have done, it should be put into place to set an example, to set an example for the other professional sports organizations throughout the world, to show them that a comprehensive, robust, anti-doping program not only sets the proper example for society, but is good for the sport, good for the fans, good for your business, and good for your bottom line.

Again, thank you so much for having me here today and allowing me to share the experience with the UFC that we've had in anti-doping over this last year and a half.

I very, very much look forward to seeing how you proceed in the near future on this issue. I'm always available to help and further share my experience with USADA and our anti-doping program.

I very much look forward to continue being a fan of your great sport, and many of those races that drew me in and continue to draw me in. Thank you very much.

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